Having been a professional truck driver and trainer for more than 30 years, I find that you never, ever know it all. There are always new things to learn. My primary goal with this blog is to help other drivers (especially newer ones) with pertinent information and tips to enable them to work happier and more safely. Guest posts, contributors and feed-back are always welcome and wanted!
In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the importance of setting the correct cold tire pressure based on the loaded weight of an RV. I also discussed inspecting the RV's tires before each trip and when is the best time to replace those tires.
In Part 2, I would like to address tire pressure monitoring systems, what to do with RV tires that are stored or sit static for months during full-time RV living, DOT codes on tires and a little more discussion on when to replace RV tires.
Tire pressure monitor systems
More and more RVs and cars now come with tire pressure monitor systems installed. They are mounted inside the rim where the tire valve stem is located. These sensors feed current tire pressure readings to an inside source where the vehicle driver can monitor these values. Not only do they give current tire pressure readings, but some also give internal temperature readings.
These devices allow the driver to know when preset values increase above a percentage of what is normal. The sensors will also indicate a loss of pressure, whether sudden or slow, that might create a serious issue while traveling.
If you RV does not have this kind of system installed, you can add an external tire pressure monitoring system that will assist you in driving with an increased level of comfort.
Pam and I have used these devices for years and have been alerted to serious issues that allowed us to pull off the road before significant damage was done to the RV. When pulling a trailer or fifth-wheel RV, or when towing a car or trailer behind a motorized RV, these devices are especially important because sometimes you can't tell when a problem may be occurring.
I travel with added peace of mind with a tire pressure monitor system installed.
While traveling with our big fifth wheel with dual tandems and the big Freightliner truck, I would not even notice the loss of one if its eight tires in the dark.
The truck would not care. It would just keep on trucking along! Have you ever had a semi-truck pass you on the highway and you noticed one of its tires is shredded or missing? They don't realize it either.
While traveling I-75 in Florida one hot August day, with the outside temperature recording 97 degrees, we had a catastrophic failure of one of our tires on the rear axle of the street side outside tire. In this case, we heard it because it sounded like a shotgun. Before the blowout, the tire pressure indicators showed a normal increase in tire pressure as expected for the hot day we were traveling.
The sensors immediately set off an alarm to which we responded by pulling off the highway. When we first heard the noise, we did not know what it was. But when the tire pressure monitor system alarm sounded, I knew a tire had failed.
Because we were notified quickly, I was able to get off the road and minimize the damage to the RV, which luckily there was little. That was because I did not continue to drive on a damaged tire that would have continued to deteriorate even further, unravel and beat up the underside of the RV.
While holding some seminars at Lazydays RV Rally Park last year, I was able to overhear another seminar with an RV manufacturer talking about the cost a rear tire failure on a Class A RV. He stated that the average cost to repair the damage by a tire that fails at highway speeds averages about $52,000. Wow!
How can an externally installed tire pressure monitoring system help you? By allowing you to address slow increases or decreases in tire pressure, out-of-range temperature readings of the tires, and even the sudden loss of tire pressure if the driver is unable to sense the change.
If your RV does not have this sort of system installed as a factory option, it is well worth the investment to have them placed on every tire valve stem involved in your RV setup. They simply screw onto the threads where the valve cap is located. If a Class A RV has six tires and pulls a car behind, it can be equipped with 10 sensors for the RV and the tow vehicle. The same can be said for trucks and towable units.
Anyone who travels in an RV should have tire pressure monitors installed. Prices start at a few hundred dollars and go up from there depending on the unit you choose and the number of sensors you require.
In the past few years, the systems have improved even more. I like that they now offer lighter-weight sensors and you can change the sensor batteries yourself instead of sealed units you have to send back to the manufacturer to replace.
RV tires that sit for months without being moved
RV tires that sit for long periods of time have more of a challenge than those that are driven more often. Such a case might be when an RV is used only a few weeks out of the year and stored the rest, or for full-time RVers who live in the RV but do not move it much because they stay in one area.
What RV owners may not know is tires age in a different manner when they are not driven — they actually may age faster. Without the tire being able to rotate, heat up and flex fully under load, the tire is not given the chance for the protective agents in the tire to be able to do their job.
If an RV is being stored, more thought needs to be given to the needs of the tires. The recommendations from the major tire manufacturers are to store the RV in a cool, dry and weather-protected unit. The best place to set the RV tires is on a smooth nonpetroleum-based surface with a barrier between the tire and its parking surface.
Most people forget to think about reducing the load in the RV while it is placed in storage. For those that are living full-time in their RV, they may be able to use the leveling system to not only level the RV but to take some of the load off their tires.
What are some other things an RV owner can do to protect their tires, whether for a full-timer or not? It is best to keep the RV tires clean by using a mild soap and water. Also, if they are going to be exposed to sunlight and ultraviolet rays, keep them covered. If possible, it is also a good idea to keep them out of a high-ozone area. (I will discuss the application of tire dressings in Part 3 of this series.)
And of course, the tires should always be inflated to the recommended pressure indicated by the RV manufacturer. But please keep in mind the best thing you can do for your tires is to use them.
The expected life of an RV tire
The various materials and rubber compounds that make up an RV tire are there to be sure the tire functions as it should. How long the tire will last certainly depends on many factors. These can be factors of how the tire is used during its life, how it is stored and maintained, and the weather conditions the tire has endured.
How can you know how old your tires are and if they should just be replaced? The Department of Transportation code placed on all tires is there to help you know the date that the tire was manufactured. It is stamped on one side of the tire. You have a 50 percent chance of being able to spot it on your tires. Some RV manufacturers like to mount the tires so the DOT codes are facing inward to protect them from being scuffed off when tires are scrubbed against curbs and other roadway hazards.
This four-digit date of birth code for late-model tires tells you the week and year a tire was made. If the date code shows 3909, that means the tire was made in the 39th week of 2009. How is this information helpful to you?
As of late, the major tire manufacturers and the National Transportation and Safety Board have stated that tires should be replaced after six years. Michelin states tires that are 10 years old are recommended for replacement, and that includes spare tires as well. I have seen recent updates stating tires should be checked by a certified tire specialist each year after the five-year mark.
Certainly, it is better to err on the side of caution than to try and save money by not replacing the tires when age is in question. Of course, if the tires start to show age-related cracks and gouges at any age, replacement should be considered. Cracks in the tire sidewalls that are between 1/32 and 2/32 inches should be examined by a tire specialist at a tire dealer.
As Michelin once stated, "So much is riding on your tires." Why would you want to take a chance? When it comes to the stresses an RV places on its tires, it is imperative not to take their maintenance seriously.
If the recommended age limit has been reached or the tires appear to be deteriorating beyond normal, replace them for the safety of all involved — not only for those traveling with the RV but also for the other drivers on the road who may be put in harm's way when an RV tire fails.
Check out Part 3 of this series where I will address tire dressings, possible causes of abnormal tire wear and selecting replacement tires for your RV. Until then, Pam and I wish you blessed travels in your RV. We hope you are lucky enough to be out on the road this time of year!